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January 22, 2008

Wireless SuperCameras

Quick, what gadget won Best of Show awards at BOTH the Consumer Electronics Show and Macworld Expo this month? If you guessed some form of music player or high-def video equipment, you'd be forgiven, but the answer is Eye-Fi, a tiny little SD card that fits in most digital cameras and gives them wireless superpowers as well as 2GB of memory.

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With Eye-Fi, you can send photos directly to your Mac or PC, and to photo sharing sites like Flickr, Facebook, Photobucket, Webshots, Snapfish, Windows Live, TypePad and many more. There's no USB cable to remember or carry around. (How many times have you forgotten yours or had to buy a new one because you left it somewhere?) All you need is your camera and a Wi-Fi network, at your home, work or friends' house. You don't even need your laptop for uploading to the Web. Wi-Fi encryption passwords are supported, although not logins at places like Starbucks, where a Web browser would be needed to get online. At Macworld Expo Eye-Fi also announced support for direct iPhoto import.

Before Eye-Fi, there were a few cameras with built-in Wi-Fi, but with very limited features. For example, the Nikon CoolPix 550c lets you send pics from the camera to your PC without wires, but only supports Flickr and a special Nikon site for uploads. The Eye-Fi's ability to work with a wide variety of sites and any camera model that takes SD cards is liberating.

Even so, the Eye-Fi's success should push more camera vendors down the wireless route. Wireless photo transfer and uploading is just too good a feature to leave entirely to third parties. At CES, Sony was showing a camera with an entirely new wireless technology, dubbed TransferJet, that works simply by touching two TransferJet-enabled devices together. It runs at a peak speeds of 560Mbps and sustained throughput of 375Mbps, far faster than Wi-Fi, and comparable to USB 2.0 at 480Mbps or FireWire at 400Mbps. Sony envisions it being used in cameras, camcorders, cell phones and other portable devices, with data being transferred to your computer, media player or even TV for direct playback. Imagine touching your cell phone to your computer to download photos and video, or your camcorder to your TV to view your latest recording on the big screen. We can't wait.

January 23, 2008

How to Become a YouTube Star

Let me begin by saying that despite my now long-running "foray" into the digital media space I have never considered myself a digital media "enthusiast." After all, the word "enthusiast" denotes someone who is truly passionate about what they do and while I have always had a love of marketing I have not always had a passion for the digital media space. Nor a hate. I suppose I was simply indifferent. I mean, what is "digital media" anyway? And, you've likely noticed by now that I don't use quotation marks sparingly. I'm a "fingers-hanging-around-my-head-in-quotes kind of gal." That information is important to you, as the reader, because it sets the tone for this article.

Roughly two months ago my friend forwarded me a link to a website and told me to check it out because it was "cool." (There it is again). So I went to www.slingbox.com and in fact agreed with said friend that it WAS cool. I started poking around and found that they were promoting a contest at that time. I read on. The contest was looking for "stand up comedy" submissions that featured their product, the Slingbox (a device you set up in your home that "slings" your favorite television shows and recorded programs to your laptop no matter where in the world you are).

This got me to thinking. I had engaged in stand up comedy years ago and wondered if I could pull something like this off. I mean, the prize was $10,000 and who couldn't use a little extra holiday dough? So I got to brainstorming and I reviewed the submissions already posted to get a pulse on my competition. They sucked. That inspired me because if there's one thing I like more than a challenge, it's a challenge I'm fairly certain I can win!

Fast forward a week. I've come up with an idea that ventures beyond traditional thinking - certainly with "stand up" being the primary parameter. I would write a song featuring the Slingbox and then produce a video to accommodate it! And....drum roll.....I did! ME! The person who doesn't sing, own a video recorder of any kind, nada. But this shows you the lengths I will go to to hear the words "you've won!".

Sadly (yes, there's always one of those in a story like this one), I somehow "missed" (read: the webmaster missed) the submission deadline and I didn't make it into the contest. HOWEVER, being the savvy marketer that I am, I sent my well-crafted, finely honed piece of work to the PR, head of Marketing, and Biz Dev folks over there at Slingbox and lo and behold got their attention!

I didn't win the 10 gees...but I did win a Slingbox for my efforts ($150 value)! That's nothing to sneeze at! Better yet, the creative process, kudos from countless friends and co-workers, and opportunity to look at myself for hours on end resulted in a new hobby. A hobby that over the past two months has (some might say) become an obsession! I prefer the word enthusiast myself. But whatev.

This is how it all got started - my passion for video making and songwriting. And I thought you should know this going into my article so that you a) better understand who I am as a person b) keep up with my video making evolution and c) get inspired to possibly do something like this for yourself (start checking YouTube community for new contests all the time!)

I never thought I'd be someone to actually use one of our products (terrible as that sounds) but now Creator 10 has become an invaluable resource to me. Check out my Slingbox video and it will all make sense. ;)

Enjoy!

(Oh, and good luck because any contest you enter that I'm already entered in will end in swift defeat). Insert evil laugh here.


February 5, 2008

San Francisco is my Nature Valley

If you had a chance to read my first article, then you know that my enthusiasm for the digital media space was ultimately spawned from a desire to enter and win a video contest (grand prize $10K). I didn’t win the contest, but that hasn’t stopped me from entering at least half a dozen more! (I can be as tenacious as a weed).

Should you have enough time on your hands / interest in me to review my YouTube history , you’ll see that I also threw my hat in the ring for LG, Pepto Bismol, 1-800-Flowers, Swiffer and Nature Valley…sometimes I break from contest trolling and dabble in what I like to call my “glass-half-empty view of the world” (take a gander at “Hey Volkswagen Driver!” to see what I mean)….but then my own brand of cynicism can start to bum me out and I inevitably go back to contest submissions (but remember, only those which I think I stand a chance of winning).

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One of my recent entries, my “Nature Valley” submission (yes, the makers of those dry but delicious granola bars) was really quite simple in structure. After reviewing the competition (ALWAYS review your competition so you know what you’re up against) I could see that the featured videos moved a bit slowly, the angles weren’t always fabulous, the audio/narrative was native (as opposed to recorded afterward in the quiet of your own home or sanitarium) and sadly not dubbed in once the video footage was edited and ready for audio to be introduced. It’s a seduction really. A slow dance. You can’t just throw it all together and hope for the best. Ya just can’t. Thus, a lot of the entries had a very “rookie” feel to them. That’s not to say mine was stupendous (and admittedly it could use some work) – but I’ve learned a thing or two about the basics.

Carrie’s basics:
1. Keep things easy to watch by recording in a way that allows the viewers’ eyes to rest (use visuals that are inviting, not jumpy and that don’t move too fast or transition too quickly)
2. Don’t keep the native audio on your final cut – silence that and either add a music track to the whole piece or narrate your video so that the sound quality is something you aren’t embarrassed to own up to
3. If you’re entering a contest, pick unusual landmarks (the Golden Gate Bridge for one!), unusual subjects (costumed or otherwise) and add some original songs/lyrics to your work to make it stand out. Get creative folks! It’s your time to shine!

Nature Valley was kinda a no-brainer for me. I mean, I live in San Francisco – literally right up against Baker Beach and the Presidio. I’d be hard pressed to find a better spot to film in and again, stuff like famous bridges, statues, towers, etc. all make for footage that people wanna see. And, sometimes, a little Velveeta in your narrative helps. I’m not saying to go Hallmark on us, but slow down your speech, enunciate and tell me why I want to listen to you for a full 60 seconds. Seduce me with your prose and lyrical ways….I dare you!

When filming something like I did for Nature Valley, you’ll need to solicit a friend, significant other, family member (that still owes you from when you moved them cross country) etc., to help because unlike staged home/office settings in which a tripod or flat surface can be used to mount a camera, you’ll be moving about and using wide angles, close ups, action – all things that will necessitate a helping hand. (And, if you really don’t have ANYONE to help you, go on Craigslist and hire someone).

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Lucky for me my bf agreed to help me out and so we set off on a bright Saturday to get my footage. I knew he wouldn’t have much tolerance for “retakes” and such and so I limited my favor-asking and ultimatums for the end of the day. I figured, it didn’t matter if we got the “perfect shot” every time, what’s important is getting enough footage to edit down and wind up with something reasonable to work with. That’s the key here. More is more. You don’t want to get stuck with just enough to scrape it together and then feel deflated by your shoddy outcome.

After I caught at least 30 different video segments of me walking, hiking, skipping, jumping, blowing on dandelions (blah, blah, blah) all I had to do was take the camera home, upload my clips and then edit it in a way that transitioned smoothly and moved the plot along. Because of the way in which this particular video was put together I could use the “narration feature” in Creator 10 to walk viewers through it. It was pretty cool to discover this actually, and I found I could have the video playing while I narrated so that I didn’t have to script it out first – I could literally tell a story and have it sound fairly natural.

I’ve blathered on long enough and I know you want to read about some breakthrough with Blu-ray – so off I go. But do leave me a comment (positive please - my ego is quite fragile) and I just may write you back! ;)


February 14, 2008

WANTED: Thicker Skin Please

One thing I’ve realized recently is that posting personal projects on YouTube (videos, songs, photo slideshows, or otherwise) can be a very humbling experience. I say this because for those of you keeping up with my blog, you know that I’ve become fairly entrenched in the contest submission side of things. I now have perfect strangers leaving questionable feedback for me (note: friends and family can only say nice things or I disown them) and I’m feeling a bit like I did in high school when someone made fun of my outfit, or worse, criticized my essay in English class for being “lame.”

At 35 I see that I’m nearly as sensitive as I was 20 years ago when it comes to my work, especially projects as intimate as a video or song that I’ve written. (I once dabbled in stand up comedy and ditched that pretty quickly). Easy Media Creator has helped me churn these puppies out a dime a dozen, but sadly hasn’t changed the emotional part of the process for me. And, despite the time that goes into each project (fast turn or lengthy), each end result is still a very unique and intimate window into my world. Thus, when the “not-so-glowing-reviews” come in it kinda stings! I can only imagine how celebs deal with it every day. ;)

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An interesting case study for you readers: I recently entered a 1800Flowers contest in which the proposition was to create a video valentine that illustrated a first date, first love, etc. in honor of Valentine’s Day. I wrote a song that I felt very confident about and created an accompanying video of my actual boyfriend (his appearance wasn’t altered to spare his identity) and threw it to the masses. Everything that came in by way of feedback was very positive initially. People saying that the song had been stuck in their head all day, and that it was so cute they hoped I’d win, etc. Then, just as the close of the contest drew nearer and I thought I might actually have this one in the bag, a dark horse came up outta nowhere! Some young “punk” (yes I can use this word now that I’m in my thirties) threw his hat in with – admittedly – a fairly well-made video and fun song about how he “scored his girl.” He has a beefy subscriber base and as such, was able to get immediate traction/click thru on this new vid. Now, instead of using his powers of fan base for good, he used them for evil. He instructed his legions of lemmings to vote for his submission (makes sense) but then to also go through and trash all the other submitters’ work! This is the part of the process that can feel terribly “unfair.” I love using that word even as an adult. My mom always said “life isn’t fair” but I keep thinking maybe one day it will be! One day hard work and kindness will win out! Won’t it? Nah, probably not.

Soooo, long story short, here are my tips on how to “possibly” win a YouTube contest (though it hasn’t yet worked for me):

1. Get as many subscribers as you can PRIOR to the contest start date (that way, when you upload your contest video your subscribers will be notified and will watch your submission right away and give you a solid rating).

2. Stick to the contest guidelines. If the rules say to limit your work to 30 seconds, make sure your vid is 30 seconds. (Hint: If you have a 30 second audio track, Creator can sync your video to your audio and ensure you don’t exceed the time limit).

3. Stay on topic. I wrote a “feel good” song with positive and fun imagery because I imagine 1800Flowers' target audience is your typical 25 to 55 year old, working person (i.e. has some disposable income) who enjoys a little mush when they are thinking of buying flowers. (I mean, who wants to listen to rap when they are in the mood for love anyway?! My bitterness is emerging…).

A winner is going to be announced on YouTube’s homepage ON Valentines Day so you can check to see who wins. I think at this point I’d be happy for any one of the finalists OTHER than the kid who trashed everyone else. Karma please work this time! Please?

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Had to update you all with the coolest friggin' technology! I just figured out how to SELL my original music (as an unsigned artist of course), using a service called Snocap! Check this out!!! (And the cart featured here even works!) ;)

February 18, 2008

Checking Out Windows Live

Some of the best reasons to upgrade to Windows Vista are the free Windows Live tools, which include Spaces, Photo Gallery and Writer. While I've been using Vista for a while now, I hadn't tried these features out yet, so I decided to download Windows Live and see what all the fuss is about. In particular, I was looking for free and easy ways to share and store all the many photos and video files I produce with Roxio's PhotoSuite and VideoWave, such as on a personal blog or Web page.

When you go to Get.Live.com , you have a choice of which Windows Live components you want to install. I opted for Photo Gallery and Writer, since along with Spaces, they allow you to create media-rich photo sharing sites and blogs. Downloading any of the components gives you access to Spaces, which is a personal Web sharing area. (Several other Windows Live products are also available, such as Hotmail, Messenger and OneCare, which you may already be familiar with.)

After installing Photo Gallery and Writer, they appear in your Program menu, and you can open them at any time to create a new slide show or blog posting. I opened Writer to see what was involved in making a blog page. A blank page with a title area invited me to write something, and a handy side panel had tools for inserting photos, videos, hyperlinks and more. I typed a title and some text, inserted a picture with the tool, pressed the Publish button and voila! I had a blog page within my Spaces account without reading a single line of documentation (results below). You can also add tags and categories for your posts, and edit the visual theme of your page. Then send a link to your friends and watch the comments come in!

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Photo Gallery is just as simple to use. When you first open it, it will automatically gather and present all the files in your Pictures and Videos folders. You can view by folder, date taken, or tags. Tags are a great organizing tool. For a picture of your kids taken at Christmas, you could add tags saying "kids," "Christmas." "Holidays" and "Grandma," for example, making it easy to search across those tags in the future.

Now you can start sharing the photos in the Gallery. To email a pic or group of pics, just select it and choose the E-mail button from the toolbar. Similarly, you can publish photos to your Spaces account for Web sharing, order prints, and more. When you publish photos to Spaces, it will ask you if you want to create a new album, or add them to an existing album. I selected five pics to upload to a Travel album, which then appeared in my Spaces account as below:

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Once you've created a Spaces photo album, you can send a link, order prints, share it on Facebook, or use the pics in your blog. You can also create permissions for albums. I liked that I could limit access to my album to my Messenger contacts, Spaces friends or specific contacts I selected. Albums can also be completely public, of course.

Overall, I was really impressed with the simplicity of both photo sharing and blogging, the fact that I didn't need to read any instructions to get up and running, and the powerful features that remain to be explored. If you've been wanting to create a blog or Web slideshow, and want complete, yet flexible control over who sees them, Spaces, Writer and Photo Gallery are powerful tools. And best of all, they're free!

March 2, 2008

El Fuego with Creator by my side....

I just discovered another really cool thing I can do using Creator 10. I’m in the process of creating an anti-smoking sketch for the state of Florida (yes, another YouTube contest, only this time I’m not in it for the prize since the prizes are only going to be doled out to legal residents of Florida). I think smoking is just gross enough that I’m willing to dedicate some of my time (let’s call it pro bono work) to bettering humanity.

As I've said before, it’s always more visually engaging when a video is augmented with interesting photos, unusual clips that help tell the story, etc. So I visited my favorite stock photography site, istockphoto.com (you can buy royalty-free stuff pretty cheaply there) and found this awesome video of a lit/smoking cigarette on a black backdrop. I was able to take that clip and “overlay” it onto my video by first creating a solid black panel in my production, then adding the mpg as an "overlay on the internal panel." The results are pretty stunning (considering I’m no pro I think this looks pretty darn cool).

Once I finish the piece you’ll get to see another cool effect in which I’ve taken what looks like a smoke-filled room and inserted myself in it, again just using footage that has a solid background and then mirroring the same background in the panel where I’m overlaying it so that the end effect is a seamless image (you can’t see where the image and panel behind it come together – or apart as the case may be).

Sometimes I find myself in a position where I have a mental block...I’ll get stuck on something – either trying to come up with some new angle I haven’t already tried….or exploring a new setting I haven’t exhausted a zillion times (I think that’s a real word actually). Surfing the web for ideas can help. You probably know you can go to google.com and perform an image search for the topic you’re working on. All kinds of things come up – some you may have never thought of – and often this can create new ideas or build on the ideas you already have.

For example, there is a section in my anti-smoking song that speaks to putting something “sweeter in your mouth” and I was able to find an image of a giant lollipop against a white backdrop. My plan is to take footage of me against a white backdrop, and then layer that into the panel with the enormous sucker and sort of wrestle with its sheer magnitude (the lolli will most definitely be bigger than me in the final cut). Kinda fun, right? It’s just a way to jumpstart the thinkin’ when you’re tired of the same old footage.

Let's say you recently went camping or on a fishing trip (or whatever floats your particular boat)…it’s way more fun to “delight” (that word is something a grandparent might use but it delights me nonetheless) the people who will be watching your photo slideshow or video with random photos of say Bigfoot or a massive hammerhead shark that you “caught effortlessly.” Know what I mean? F-U-N.

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But if my idea of fun isn’t necessarily yours, that’s ok too. Stick to the footage you actually shot yourself and add neat transitions and effects between segments. My favorite transition is the “dissolve” feature because I love the way one image fades slowly as another comes up on screen. It’s such a softer effect than jumping from shot to shot. And with borders (like the “old photo” or “newspaper collage”) you can make what was a more ordinary series of photos something that jumps off the screen.

Do I sound like I’ve been paid to wax on? I’m feeling a bit prolific even for my own standards….but as I write this, my boyfriend is putting the final touches on a marketing plan that I’m supposed to be writing - so I’m attempting to look very busy so he’ll keep on going. More later! ;)

March 14, 2008

The 15-Second Challenge.....

Faced with yet another YouTube challenge I accepted the mission. The objective: create a 15-second spot (15 EXACTLY per their rules and regulations) that illustrates how much simpler life would be using Microsoft Sync (smart voice recognition software). You’ve probably seen the commercials….woman holding latte walks purposefully toward glass double doors, calmly says, “door open” and then slams into it, coffee spraying everywhere. Or, the guy who firmly commands, “treadmill on!” and then proceeds to take a running leap for the still stationary machine, nearly decapitating himself in the process. Fun, huh?

So I had to think of something along those lines but of course that hadn’t already been done. I brainstormed….I came up with some fairly obvious choices; “computer on!”…..”toilet flush!”…..then I found that one of the simplest executions was really most “on strategy” – my “elevator up!” concept. Check it out:

So what I did was I took my Sony Cybershot camera (yes, I’m still using it which will explain why the clarity isn’t fabulous), I mounted it on one of the obnoxious oversized planters in my office’s “foyer”, took a look through the viewfinder and made sure that I was getting the shot I was after. Then it was truly as simple as hitting record because once the camera was rolling I could walk into the picture and have it continue rolling as I got inside the elevator, waited for the doors to close, then quickly press the “door open” button and assume my position of confusion/frustration again at not having moved. You get the picture.

When I was done (and this literally took all of two minutes to film) I imported the footage into Videowave (integrated into Creator 10) and quickly edited out the bits I didn’t want – like me hitting “record” on the camera and then scurrying stage left. Right? Left.

I then silenced the native audio because I didn’t want that strange humming sound that accompanies poor audio – it’s like the lights in a cheap department store. Creepy and depressing. I found this cool instrumental version of the main theme to “GoldenEye” and then (now this is going to sound confusing but it’s sooooo not) I imported the unprotected audio into Mixcraft, took EXACTLY the 15 seconds of it that I wanted, then saved it.

Next I overlayed the audio on my 15-second video clip and I had myself a little story going. The best part, I used the narration feature again (remember how perfectly that worked in My Nature Valley?) and I dubbed my “elevator up!” voiceover just as my mouth was saying the words. The narration layers on top of the background music (cool) and doesn’t sound weird or thrown in “after the fact” – just more like what you’d expect from a commercial. Ya know? In fact, I’ll take this opportunity to show you what my video would have sounded like had I NOT done anything at all to the audio. Check this out:

Pretty big difference huh? I know!

So anyhoo, if you were to check out my YouTube channel you’d see I executed on the “toilet flush” concept as well – but I felt my elevator clip was stronger and likely wouldn’t be done by many. Toilet humor is far too obvious. But always funny. At 36 I still love a good toilet joke. I digress.

Stay tuned cuz I’m in the throes of wrapping two new video/song compilations: the final anti-smoking pitch and a road trip video that I had wanted to submit to a contest but unfortunately I couldn’t finish it in time because I actually had some work (yes, real work – the kind I get paid to do) conflicting and messing up the rest of my life.

Bye for now!

April 7, 2008

My favorite place is....first!

Ok, ya’ll…the long-awaited Florida anti-smoking campaign video coming ‘atcha!

There are so many cool things I discovered while making this production.

My whole filming-against-a-black-sheet thing worked! I was able to hang it over the door to my kitchen and then effectively use that as my backdrop so that I could add the overlay images without a prob! (My cat was probably the only obstacle in getting this filmed easily – she had to get as close as possible to the sheet and ruined my first few takes.)

With the black backdrop I could place my overlay images (popsicles, lollipop, cool car, altoids and more!) exactly where I wanted them (you can literally go into the piece of video footage and find the precise place within the segment that you want to drop the graphic; better yet, you can have it spin into the scene, tumble, creep, blink, fade in, fade out – you name it!).

The whole smoke-filled room thing totally worked – I used the footage of the smoke and dropped it in over my head so that it looked like I was in a "lounge" of sorts – I was quite pleased with the results!

So far I’ve had quite a bit of positive feedback….I’ve had a couple of thumbs down but that surely had to come from the "addicted" living in said state. Poor, poor delusional smokers.

All by way of saying, every time I use Creator I learn something new. And, I recently entered some of my music videos into the Alice 3-minute film festival (the SF-based radio station for those not familiar). I thought the best way to submit would be to use MyDVD to burn the disc - but I couldn’t figure out how to create a file that could be easily downloaded. One of my co-workers showed me that if I go into Creator and pick the “Data and Backup” tab I can create a data disc that way. Then, when someone launches the disc they aren’t automatically launching a player, but instead a list of files that they can “open”, “play”, "download", etc.

So I think I’m officially getting to the “Creator Pro” status. I’m feeling that way anyway. ;)

Then, just for kicks, I entered my bf into the GillettePhenom contest – a contest restricted to males only (what the heck???) and they have to be doing something “phenomenal” with a ball. Oh man…the paths I could go down here….anyhoo, I used some golf footage that we’d taken back in January and married it with the Gillette theme music. It looks/sounds pretty good – though I have had one comment so far that said something to the effect of “can’t anyone do this??”. Well, Mr. Bummer Bird, I suppose anyone could – but anyone (read: you) hasn’t!

I’m so naughty.

Anyway, that’s all I've got at the moment….Oh, and I didn't win the Nature Valley contest - Joel can go live in Maine and eat blueberries till he bursts for all I care. Buh. I hate losing.

April 10, 2008

Self-Help for TiVo Addicts

If you own a TiVo, you probably belong to the ranks of TiVo addicts (like me) who constantly struggle to watch their favorite shows before the hard drive fills up. That 80-hour box sounds like a lot until you start cluttering it up with movies and old episodes of “Ask This Old House” that show you how to build the deck you’ve been meaning to install for three years now...

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Ironically, since I bought the TiVo mainly because I travel a lot, I always end up madly cleaning it out just before going on a trip, to make sure that there is enough free space to record “Mystery” and “House” while I'm gone. It's become another item on my travel To Do list, along with packing and calling the petsitter. But there's not always time to zip through everything before I leave, and it's really painful to have to delete unwatched shows, or get rid of a favorite old movie.

So what's the solution for TiVo addiction and full hard drives? Assuming you have a networked Series 2, 3 or HD model, you can shell out big bucks for one of the new add-on hard disks that just came out, or you can buy a few blank DVDs, and use TiVoToGo and Roxio software to burn shows to disc or export them to your portable media player. Both Easy Media Creator 10 and Toast 9 have official TiVoToGo support.

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Now, instead of having to watch 10 shows before I leave on a trip, I can take them with me to view on my laptop, which is great for airplanes. And all those movies and shows I want to keep for posterity I can burn to DVD, instead of letting them use up hard drive space.

You can even use the editing tools in Toast and Creator to remove unwanted segments from your recordings. Usually I only want to keep one 10-minute portion of a "This Old House" episode, for example. With Creator or Toast, I can cherry-pick the good parts from lots of episodes and put them all on one DVD with a nice menu for navigation. My dream house may not be built yet, but I'll know exactly how to do it!

I just need to upgrade to an HD TiVo and I'll be in DVR heaven.

So what is your experience using TiVoToGo? Any tips? Let us know in the comments.

May 1, 2008

Taking Stock of Your Life

Don't worry, this article is not about justifying your existence! By "taking stock of your life," I quite literally mean making an inventory of your worldly goods, something I've been meaning to do for years for insurance purposes.

Living just two blocks from the Hayward Fault in Berkeley, and being subjected to ever-more strident headlines about how we are due for the next "big one" any moment now, insurance and earthquake preparedness are hot topics among my neighbors.

One has only to look at Hurricane Katrina, umpteen California brush fires (including the big Oakland Hills fire less than two miles from me), and various other floods, tornados and tsunamis to recognize the importance of a good home inventory and disaster plan. If a fire wiped out your home today, would you be able to remember everything in it and document ownership with receipts? Even if you have great insurance, it will be worthless without being able to prove your losses.

So how to get started? Creating an inventory for an entire house is a daunting task, especially if you have been living in it for many years. That's the main reason it's been on my To-Do list for nearly 10 years now. Searching the Web for inspiration, I found a great site created by the Insurance Information Institute that not only tells you exactly what to do, but provides the free software to do it, for both PCs and Macs.

Here's how it works: First, you set up the outline your home by naming all the rooms, including the basement, garage and attic. Then you go room by room adding items to the inventory. The software has spaces for importing pictures and receipts for each item, or you can store these separately.

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The Institute also recommends taking a video inventory. By simply going around each room opening drawers and cabinets and zooming in on each object, you can create an quick inventory without having to itemize a thing. While you'll still need to document purchase prices and values in the event of a loss, the video will at least remind you of what was there, and provide some proof that you owned it.

I plan to do the video inventory first, and then tackle the digital photos and software-based inventory room by room. VideoWave and PhotoSuite are perfect for editing the video and organizing the photos for this task, and once completed, I will store the inventory, video and photos on a DVD in my safe deposit box.

There, I feel better just having a plan! What's yours?

August 8, 2008

Making Digital Connections

When I first joined Sonic it was easy to stay connected to my peers. We were a small, centrally located team, with a very narrow business focus. Key discussions were made face to face, in meeting rooms, hallways, and even the break room.

Over a decade later, the company has changed a great deal -- moving beyond our focus in pro-level audio tools, to create products ranging from professional authoring systems to consumer software and services.

We also now have a far larger team with staff working on multiple continents. This makes it infinitely more difficult to stay connected. As with many organizations, Sonic uses technology to shorten the distance and encourage collaboration. Systems like instant messaging, video conferencing, intranets, and wikis have now replaced a good number of the face-to-face discussions that used to happen.

Of course, as Sonic is well aware, using technology to stay connected is not confined to the office. Technology is now playing a far greater role within our own personal network of friends and family. Often crunched for time and separated by miles, it has become increasingly difficult to stay up-to-date on the major events and happenings in the lives of the people we care about most. Emailing a short message and a few digital pictures may help reinforce the bonds and shorten the miles of separation, but it’s not all that compelling and certainly can’t convey a complete story.

While we may not have totally solved the issue, we believe that the launch of Roxio Online with its PhotoShow capabilities is a solid step in the right direction. Easy and quick to create, PhotoShows are able to convey far more than a few static photos and lines of text. Within minutes PhotoShow lets you turn your personal digital photos and videos into a highly entertaining digital “story” that is sure to delight your community of friends and family.

As we neared completion of the Roxio Online service, I created a PhotoShow for myself and then challenged my executive staff senior team to do the same (a great way to test the whole creative ease theory!). I asked the team to make a show that would reveal something about them that other staff might be surprised to discover (like a hobby or dream profession).

The results, which were really quite impressive, not only proved the theory that we’ve made digital storytelling easy for anyone to master, but also that PhotoShows can really help reinforce a sense of community – even within a group as large as Sonic.

Here are a couple of staff favorites from the challenge, as well as my own; I hope you enjoy them.


Created by Chris Loeper, VP of Worldwide Sales, Roxio:


Created by Pete Bouton, VP of Engineering, Sonic:


Created by Dave Habiger, President & CEO, Sonic:

August 9, 2008

Changing the world one video at a time...

If you've been keeping up with my articles, admittedly sporadically posted as of late, you know that despite falling well outside of the established "target audience" I am in fact a digital media enthusiast. Since my last post, I've uncovered a few more neat tips, tricks and apps.

Inspired yet again by a YouTube contest, this time sponsored by Timberland (outdoor gear not the producer/rapper spelled slightly differently in case you were confused), I was urged to create an entry in support of making the world a more sustainable, "green" place to live. It just so happens this is something I've been paying closer and closer attention to lately...in addition to volunteering for a very cool, very forward-thinking "green production" company in the Bay Area, I've also been inspired by our very own CEO here at Sonic who has thrown his hat into the green arena by building electric cars in his spare time! Go Dave!

Blah, blah, blah too much background information and I'm probably losing your attention fast, right? Well, here's where things get interesting. I wanted to create a video using what's known as "green screen" technology (or blue screen but since we're trying to be green here I'll go with that). This is a technique by which one can extract oneself from a setting by using a green backdrop during video capture and then swapping in a background of choice during post-production (mountains, the beach, a busy street, you get the idea). My thought was to illustrate the different ways in which our world is being steadily depleted of its natural resources by inserting myself into those scenarios.

My first attempt to create a green screen failed. I picked up some yellow-green wrapping paper at a local Paper Source and lined my bedroom wall with it. When I took the footage against this paper and reviewed it afterward I realized the color was totally off (too much yellow would make it difficult to extract the background and not the pigmentation from my skin) plus the paper was too shiny. Sigh.

Example of baaaad green screen:

badgreenscreen.bmp

Then, on a whim, I took this ratty old green blanket that I bought at the Buena Vista several years ago (after one too many Irish coffees) and draped it over my sofa. I planted myself in front of it, took the video footage again and to my amazement was able to use what is known as "keying" to extract myself from the background, ultimately rendering a silhouette that could be placed anywhere!

Example of good (albeit cheap) green screen:

bettergreenscreen.bmp

Here's what it looks like when I swap out the green blanket for a cool background:

EKsnapshotrev.bmp

Having never done something like this before I had to quickly teach myself to use Adobe After Affects, a pro product that is not cheap and not easy to use. I was determined however, and I dedicated an entire weekend to learning it well enough to get the video I needed. I had written a "green song" and composed a music bed for it (using an application similar to GarageBand but for the PC). Here's the catch: After Affects does not support audio and the audio app I used does not support video. Hmm. Can you see where I'm going with this? Enter Easy Media Creator stage right.

After much ado getting my keying and backgrounds all lined up in After Affects I was able to output a video file that I could then easily import into Videowave (built into Creator). From there I added my original song to the project, created start and end screens and tightened up the transitions a bit so the track and the video were better aligned.

Let me just interrupt my own technical blather for a moment to say that I generally don't have the patience to do my own laundry, however, faced with this triumverate of digital media challenges I didn't even notice day turning into night then turning into day again. I was a mad scientist in my very own video lab. Waaahaaaahaaaa! (Evil laugh. Did I need to tell you that?)

I was one of only a few who entered this EarthKeeper contest (definitely the only music video). I think most might have been scared off by the prospect of trying to save the world. But on my whiteboard at work there is a two-columned matrix entitled "Carrie v The World." My colleague put that up there as a joke because I am always out to fight the good fight. Interestingly, with this latest venture, I think I'll have to add a column that reads "Carrie Saves The World!"

Check out my efforts below and let me know what you think. I can give you even more information about every painstaking point in the production process but ONLY if you ask.

Helpful hints:
1. Use that nifty tool "Paint" that hides under "Start menu, All Programs, Accessories" to modify, enhance or edit images for your production. It's easy to use and super helpful.
2. Don't forget about Lynda.com - an excellent resource for learning the latest tools and techniques in digital media, design, and development - all at your own pace.
3. Check out a super cool app called CamStudio. It's free and it will capture a video file of anything - other video files, an interesting web page, a cool banner ad you want to show someone else, etc. I used it for another project but I'll save that for my next article!
4. Most importantly, don't forget to have fun!

September 16, 2008

Joining the High-Def Club

While I was an early member of the high-def club -- I got my HD Sony tube TV almost five years ago -- I was a relative latecomer to HD camcorders, finally ponying up this summer for a Canon Vixia HF11 AVCHD recorder when the rewind button on my old tape-based MiniDV camera stopped working.

CanonHF11.jpg

While I'm extremely happy with my choice, the selection process was not easy. First, you have to decide between two competing HD video formats: AVCHD and HDV. Then, you need to determine the camera with the best image quality and other features for your budget.

Up till recently, HDV camcorders, which record using the MPEG-2 video compression scheme (also used by DVDs and some commercial Blu-ray discs), were considered the quality leaders. AVCHD camcorders, even though they use the more efficient MPEG-4 compression scheme, typically recorded at bit rates of 13-15Mbps, well below the maximum 24Mbps.

Even though AVCHD has the supreme advantage of recording to flash cards or hard drives, rather than MiniDV tape like HDV, videophiles stuck with HDV for the superior quality. Hence my dilemma. Should I go with the older and less-convenient (and less space-efficient) HDV standard to ensure the best image quality? Or should I go with AVCHD for its flash memory and correspondingly easy file transfers?

Serendipitously, almost the same week I needed to make my choice, Canon introduced three new camcorders that record at a full 1920x1080 and 24Mbps: the flash-based HF11, and the hard disk-based HG20 and HG21. No more compromise between image quality and convenience! My choice was suddenly made simple.

Equally important, just a couple weeks later, Creator 2009 shipped with full support for importing, editing and burning AVCHD video. (Toast 9 for Mac already had this capability, when partnered with the HD/BD Plug-In.)

Now, after five long years, my HD circle is finally complete: I can record HD on my new camcorder, edit and burn it with Creator or Toast, and then view it on my HDTV through my Sony PlayStation 3 with Blu-ray drive. I don't even need a Blu-ray recorder, thanks to the ability of both Creator 2009 and Toast 9 to burn HD video onto standard DVDs.

For more on the tradeoffs between HDV and AVCHD camcorders, check out my article on Future-Proof Video for PC World.

October 23, 2008

How Qflix Saved My Sister...

Okay, Qflix didn't actually save her life, but it definitely did save her sanity. What's worse than traveling halfway around the world with 4-year-old twins on back-to-back 10+ hour plane flights? Traveling with 4-year-old twin boys AND a baby...

She emailed me in a panic last week: What can I do to keep the boys entertained while I take care of the baby? Being the geek that I am, I immediately started thinking of all sorts of ways to copy their favorite DVDs to her laptop. But that involves illicit ripping software, and other techie skills she doesn't have the time or inclination to learn.

I could have told her to download them from iTunes, but why pay for a movie only to be locked into viewing it on a computer or portable player? Most of the time, the boys watch on TV, and they love being able to pick their favorites from the pile, put them the DVD player, and press the button. When it comes to kids' movies, plastic discs rule.

That's when I hit upon Qflix, the download-to-burn movie techology that has just shipped from Roxio and partners like Dell and CinemaNow. With Qflix drives and media, all she would have to do is connect the Qflix drive I sent her, open the accompanying Roxio Venue software to select a movie, then click the button to both download it and burn it to a Qflix DVD. She's an online-shopping addict (it's pretty much impossible to drag three little kids around the mall), so this would be right up her alley and technical comfort level.

1Venue.jpg

In one shot, she'd have a copy of the movie on her hard drive for the boys to watch on the plane or in the car, and a physical DVD for them to play on the TV at home. She downloaded Surf's Up (they love penguins so this was a safe choice) and The Spiderwick Chronicles, made sure the extra laptop battery was charged, and was all ready to go.

I won't pretend the trip was without incident (notably the drink spill on the saintly lady sitting next to them on one leg), but they got through it. Even better, Liz now has a source of movies that she can tap any time without going to the video store or waiting days for them to come in the mail. She can pick a movie before dinner, start the download and burn process, and it will be done in time to watch with her husband after the kids are in bed.

Learn more about Qflix and how it works here.

December 22, 2008

Playing with Time: Making Time-Lapse Videos

While I fervently hope I am never trapped in an elevator or eaten by ants, the millions of people who've watched these YouTube movies are clear evidence of the impact and reach of time-lapse videos.

Watching things get built, grow, morph or change with the seasons can be mesmerizing. Ordinary happenings become entertaining just by speeding them up. Take a look at this Christmas tree decorating video. It's absolutely fascinating to watch and the kids are adorable, although in real time it would have been a complete yawner.

So how can you make your own time-lapse movies? Pretty much any video shot from one position for a period of time is fair game. You could shoot the kitchen scene at Thanksgiving, the view from your car window as you drive cross-country, or your kids building a sandcastle or snowman. (Tip: Use a tripod or other fixed mount to keep the camera steady, and make sure you have enough power to keep things going for as long as you need. Plugging into the wall is best.)

Once you have your footage, it's time to speed it up. Turning it into the next YouTube sensation is easy with Creator 2009 and VideoWave. First, open VideoWave and select "Add Photo/Video" to add your clips to the timeline. Then right-click on the first video clip and choose "Trim..." to bring up the Video Trimmer window.


timelapse1.jpg


Now change the speed to whatever multiple you like. For example, if your overall video is 4 hours long, and you want the end result to be 4 minutes long, put 60 in the speed box to speed it up 60 times. (Note that if you have a long movie, it may be imported in multiple clips. Change the speed for all of them to the same number.)


timelapse2.jpg


After changing the speed for each video clip, you can preview the overall movie in the main video window at top right. Adjust the speed up or down if desired, or cut out portions that don't help tell the story. You may even want to speed up some parts more than others, although it's best to just stick with one number. When you're happy with the results, choose "Export As" from the Output menu, and save your movie to disk. You can choose from many formats, such as MPEG2 for recording to DVD, 3GPP for cell phones, and MPEG4 or AVC for iPod and portable player viewing.


timelapse4.jpg


Finally, upload your new time-lapse production to the web to share with family and friends. If you want to be the next online video star, send it to YouTube. If you'd rather it stay private, try uploading it to Roxio Online instead, where you can securely share videos with people you invite using PhotoShow. Either way, the results will be time-altering!

About Video

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to MyMoments in the Video category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Photo is the previous category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.